Character Customization In Videogames: MMO Edition

First, I'll tell you a little bit about myself. I'm a 22 year old female college student. When I'm not reading, studying, cooking, knitting, etc, I'm usually trying out an MMORPG or completing a console game. I started gaming in the late 90's and will probably do it forever! (Yes! Even as a ghost!!)

One of my favorite hobbies is trying out MMOs. For whatever reason, I like checking out different themes, fighting systems, crafts, and communities on online games. I have run into some great games, and some plain awful ones, and an ongoing trait for the "great" games tend to have has been large amounts of character customization!

Being able to look however you want is a huge plus for me when I am testing a game. Look like a buff wrestler, or a sexy diva, being able to decide makes a game more worthwhile for me in the long run. Hell, on Gaia Online, I currently look like a mean bunny plushie! And, even though I'm usually playing in a fantasy setting, I enjoy being able to make my character match my true appearance as closely as possible!.

But, this is where the problems start. I noticed very early on in my online gaming career that many online games do not give me the option to alter my character to match me, despite bragging about high levels of character customization. My general description is a short, black female with long, thin dreadlocks and glasses. Now, how many online games, (shoot, games in general) can you think of that would let me even match part of this description? Unfortunately, the answer is very few.

While I know that things such as height and hair texture may be difficult to add into a game, I think my biggest pet peeve is not being able to change skin tone. In games like Ether Saga, Shaiya, Flyff, Nostale, Trickster Online and Fiesta Online, there is no option whatsoever to change skin tone, but they may give you several options to change your hair, face, and even species! (Fiesta lets you be an elf). When I encounter this issue, I always wonder if its' because game developers do not expect people of darker skin tones to play the game, or if it is because the area where the game was developed does not have as much diversity as the area I live in? (I must admit, Trickster Online was still fun to me, even though all I could change was my species and hair color. R.I.P </3)

Now, most of the games I have mentioned have not had huge commercial success here in the States. A good handful of people have played and are playing them, but I do not notice them getting recommended to people on forums/ in-game. It makes me wonder if the lack of decent character customization is the culprit (along with gameplay and content of course). Another strange restriction I see in some MMOs is the gender-locking of classes. Since some of these games emphasize role playing, I have mixed feelings about this decision by game developers. Maybe I am biased toward gender locking, since female players are often locked to magic and healing classes, while males get to play the brutes and assasins. What if I want to bash a few skulls dear game developer?! Ladies can be violent too hehe... While many societies place women in supportive roles, and men in offensive ones, it still...irks me me that it has to be the same in a FANTASY setting on a game.

On the other side of this coin, I have played many MMOs that have had good to great character customization! From simple browser games such as Dungeon Blitz, Puppet Guardian, and Gaia Online, to client based games like Mabinogi, Latale, and Eden Eternal, they all have given me the chance to have a virtual character look like me for once. I have also noticed that these games seem to have a "happier" playerbase. Something about being able to look the way you want appears to make a game's community much more sociable and willing to play in groups. From my own perspective, I feel more motivated to play a character I customized myself than a cookie cutter clone.

So reader, what is your position on character customization in MMORPGs? Does not being able to tweak your character's looks bother you enough to not play an MMO, or is it not that important to you? Also, how do you think game developers should address this issue?

Thanks for reading,
Knitt 3nodding